Just to make one thing clear from the start: I don’t have an answer.
I only pose the question because Hull City are next on the agenda; and Northampton beat a seemingly bankrupt Liverpool this week. At Anfield.
The question is this – on the basis that we are not all supporters of a Chelsea, an Arsenal or a Manchester United, what does anyone dream of these days?
I guess the answer to any Cobblers fan this week will be simple; beating Liverpool at Anfield. In a cup competition. And saying to my grandkids: ‘I was there… the night that we beat Liverpool…’
And that’s what football can still do. Just.
Deliver results and nights like that on Merseyside that live forever in our dreams. Or rather, if we are a Northampton fan. If we’re not, then what’s left for the rest of us to hope for?
Maybe ask a passing Tigers fan on Saturday.
‘It must have been a dream season for you, playing in the Premiership…?’
The fear is, of course, that they’ll just turn round and say: ‘Nah, it was a bleedin’ nightmare… and look at us now, back where we started and all but bankrupt… Wish we’d have never gone up…’
I know it is sometimes hard to look at football through the eyes of another football fan; but imagine if you were a Pompey fan… been a Pompey fan man and boy. Or rather boy and man.
And now you were taking your own 10-year-old boy to Fratton Park too. On the back of trips to Wembley with old, lovable H and the promise of a new stadium, you’d managed to actually ensure that your kid supported his home town club… that he was a Pompey Blue, not a Chelsea Blue.
Now what’s he got to look forward to? What can that ten-year-old dream of now? A derby win over Southampton? In League One. That’s what he’s left with.
I’m guessing. Slightly.
But I’d imagine – on reflection – everyone had a ball last season. New grounds; win after win; a title triumph. And the fun continues at the start of this season.
There will be eight, nine, ten-year-old Norfolk kids who are being bitten by the Canary bug; everyone loves a winner. But here’s the real danger for football… or rather for the 65-70% of provincial football club supporters who give the English game its soul, its life and its future.
What is there left to look forward to if promotion to the Premiership proves to be nothing more than a killing field – be it of teenage dreams or, more often, financial security?
How long will it take for a Southampton or a Charlton to recover? And even if they do, eventually, crawl their way back out of the abyss and grab a ticket back into the ‘Promised Land’, what then?
Are they going to be able to cling on for more than a year? If we suspect that Manchester City might muscle into that little clutch of clubs that dominate the English game and that Liverpool – post Hicks – will find some equally wealthy new benefactors to arrive at the helm, is the best any of us can hope for really just sixth?
That ‘doing a Fulham’ and frolicking your way through to the final of the Europa Cup is about as good as it ever gets these days; that and a one-off penalty shoot-out triumph against a Premiership Ressie side…. That’s what we can all look forward to.
Maybe that’s enough. Such hopes and dreams are enough to keep the kids entertained; to keep the kids’ hearts in the right places… supporting their home town teams.
See – and cast me down from on high and stone me till I die – but I wonder whether coming second in a *Championship* Play-Off final at Wembley isn’t a bad dream to have.
Because as good as winning a Championship Play-Off final at Wembley would be, the feel-good factor would last a summer. By the time you were being ripped apart by a Chelsea a la a West Brom or a Blackpool and were left keeping your fingers crossed you could start nicking points at a Bolton, a Blackburn or a Wigan, there’s a part of me that would be getting quite nostalgic for hanging around in the top six of the second flight…
Winning games is nice; it’s fun; the kids love it. Being battered at a half-empty Reebok isn’t much of a laugh.
Of course, the accountants and the suits would say differently. How could anyone not believe that winning a £60 million ticket to the richest football league in the world wasn’t a case of so many Christmas’ coming early?
For who? For the players – and their agents. Yep, sure. For the supporters? Really?
And for the clubs? How many of the clubs of Norwich’s ilk have really ‘cracked it’? Like got the balance right; really right. Do we all dream of being a Bolton? A Wigan?
I guess Aston Villa go close; Fulham under Roy Hodgson got it so, so right… for a while. Minus Hodgson… West Ham could do a Portsmouth; they walk a fine line. Middlesbrough are back among the flotsam and jetsam; Sunderland under Bruce… maybe they can keep the magic alive; I rarely see The Stadium Of Light full to the rafters… is the joy unbounded on the banks of the Wear? I don’t know.
Congratulations if you are a Cobblers fan; good luck to you in Saturday’s fourth round draw; get yourself a plum Premiership tie at home; fill your boots; let the TV cameras roll.
This could be your year. This could be the season when – for once – dreams come true.
How many dreams will come true for the rest of us is, of course, another matter.